I’m tired of hearing everyone talk about how the Pittsburgh Penguins “handled” the Washington Capitals last season.

Yes, the Penguins defeated the Capitals in a 7 game playoff series, winning the final game (which was in D.C.) by 4 goals.  Yes, the post-season is more important than the regular season, but let’s look at all the facts.

In four regular season games last year, Washington beat Pittsburgh 3 of 4 times, with their only loss coming in an overtime shootout, albeit at home.  The other time the Penguins came to D.C.?  3 goal victory by the guys in red.  BOTH TIMES the Capitals went to Pittsburgh during the regular season, Washington won – the first time by 1 goal, the second time by 3 goals.

In the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Penguins had an easy road to travel, simply going across the state of Pennsylvania to play the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Capitals first round opponent were the New York Rangers, who play in the notorious Madison Square Garden.  The Penguins finished their first round series on April 25th, three days ahead of the Capitals, giving Pittsburgh plenty of time to rest and plan for their upcoming series.

To hear sports talk radio hosts tell it, when the Caps and Penguins met up in the second round, the Capitals got destroyed by Pittsburgh.  Why?  Because it ended poorly.  The first two home games, the Capitals won by 1 goal each.  When the series moved to Pittsburgh, the Penguins won (the first in OT by 1 goal, the second by 2).  Game 5, coming back to D.C., the Capitals lost a heartbreaker in overtime.  As playoff series go, Game 6 went back to Pittsburgh, and the Capitals won an overtime game by 1 to even the series at 3 games each.  In Game 7, Varlamov laid an egg, losing 6-2 which allowed Pittsburgh to advance to the third round.

Thus far in 2009-10, the Capitals have beaten the Penguins in both regular season meetings.  The first game was in Pittsburgh, a 3 goal victory.  The second game was in D.C., an overtime win by 1.

Tonight, the rivalry continues, and although I think the Capitals are going to be victorious against the Penguins squad which doesn’t have Marian Hossa (now with Chicago) as they did in last year’s playoffs and are likely without Evgeni Malkin due to injury, this game won’t do much to silence the fact that some people think that Pittsburgh is going to beat the Capitals in the playoffs again this year.  They ignore all the facts which speak otherwise and just point to the game 7 loss last year.

No matter how many times the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s going to take a playoff series where the Capitals thoroughly beat the Penguins to quiet the critics.  If Theodore would’ve played more in the Penguins series last year or if Mike Green had performed better in last year’s playoffs, the Capitals might’ve been the ones hoisting the Stanley Cup instead of having been eliminated by the eventual champions.  That’s why it’s reassuring to see the Capitals win games even without Ovechkin in the line-up, using a diverse cast of characters to compile the NHL’s best record.  It shows that when the Stanley Cup playoffs are getting heated, the hopes of the franchise aren’t on the shoulders of one or two players.